I had an experience last week like I haven’t had in a long time. In over a year as a matter of fact. Suddenly, out of nowhere, with no understanding why, the entire world didn’t exist. The world wasn’t there. I was experiencing disassociation and I was terrified.
According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) website, disassociation is an interruption of a person’s fundamental aspects of waking consciousness (such as one’s personal identity, one’s personal history, etc.).
Have you ever driven somewhere and then suddenly realized you don’t remember actually driving? How about being at a party but feeling like you’re not there? Like you are in a bubble and everything is just going on around you? Those two examples are sad attempts to explain what disassociation is like. They’re not exactly the same, especially since there are different types of dissociative disorders and each person may experience them differently.
The NAMI website has an excellent section on dissociation. Below are the four primary types they describe on their site. I deal with depersonalization disorder, so I’ll save that one for last.
Dissociative fugue is rare, so I’ll start with it. According to NAMI, dissociative fugue suddenly and unexpectedly takes a person on a physical leave of his or her surroundings and sets them off on a journey of some kind. These journeys can last hours, or even several days or months. Individuals experiencing a dissociative fugue have traveled over thousands of miles. An individual in a fugue state is unaware of or confused about his identity, and in some cases will assume a new identity (although this is the exception).
Dissociative amnesia is the one they like to use on soap operas. This is the one where people block out critical personal information, usually of a traumatic or stressful nature. Dissociative amnesia, unlike other types of amnesia, does not result from other medical trauma. In other words, unlike what they show on television, they did not get it by getting hit on the head. Also, unlike television, please do not bang them over the head to help them get out of it. That doesn’t work either. There are subtypes of dissociative amnesia and here they are taken verbatim from the NAMI webpage:
◾Localized amnesia is present in an individual who has no memory of specific events that took place, usually traumatic. The loss of memory is localized with a specific window of time. For example, a survivor of a car wreck who has no memory of the experience until two days later is experiencing localized amnesia.
◾Selective amnesia happens when a person can recall only small parts of events that took place in a defined period of time. For example, an abuse victim may recall only some parts of the series of events around the abuse.
◾Generalized amnesia is diagnosed when a person’s amnesia encompasses his or her entire life.
◾Systematized amnesia is characterized by a loss of memory for a specific category of information. A person with this disorder might, for example, be missing all memories about one specific family member.
Dissociative identity disorder is the most famous of the dissociative disorders, probably because of books and movies like “All About Eve” and “Sybil”. It used to be known as multiple personality disorder. Many people incorrectly refer to this as schizophrenia, which is vastly different. An individual living with this has more than one distinct identity or personality state that changes on a recurring basis. Memories can also vary, depending on their personalities.
Depersonalization disorder is the one I deal with. Some experience feelings of detachment or distance from one’s own body, or self. While I have experienced the detachment from my body described above, generally I experience the more severe feeling of believing the external world is unreal or distorted. When it would hit I would be terrified to touch anything because it would prove that the world was not really there. I’d usually stand in a room as perfectly still as possible to avoid touching objects or walls. When alone I could sometimes collapse on the bed or couch, yet would still feel like the rest of the world around me wasn’t there.
Descartes said “I think, therefore I exist.” Yes, I existed because I had my own thoughts, but that’s where my faith ended. Everything else in the world (universe) felt like they were merely a figment of my imagination and the last thing I wanted during my episodes was to prove that was true.
My episodes were shorter when Maurice was home. They usually lasted only a few minutes. It helped because he could see I was having an episode and would repeat to me to “feel the floor.” Then when he knew I was comfortable, he would take me by the hands. Feeling his hands and feeling the floor at the same time would bring me down to reality. . I would usually tremble and cry when it was over, which helped to shake off the fear.
As I said above, it’s been a long time since I’ve had an episode, so I have no idea why I had another one. Whatever it was, I hope it doesn’t happen again. I’ve experienced enough of them for one lifetime.